Skip to main content

Full text of "Trotlines: Artisinal Longlining for Food and Profit"

See other formats


Trotlines 1 

Artisanal Longlining 
for Food and Profit 

by Nathan Martinez 




, I 


I i 


Artisanal Longlining 
for Food and Profit 

by Nathan Martinez 



Trotline Parts and Materials.9 

End Fixtures.9 



Marker Buoys.10 











Drop Lines.17 





Tools & Gear.20 




Wire/bolt Cutters.21 





Fish Baskets.22 

Landing Net.22 

Ice Chests / Boxes.22 


Line Haulers.23 

Pot Puller.23 

Bandit Reel.23 


Catching Bait.24 


Cast Net.24 

Dip Net.25 

Live Well.25 








Mud Minnows.28 

Wooden Dowels.29 

Target Species.30 

Croakers and Snappers.30 







Bottom Type.32 

Depth and Water Temperature.32 


Land Features.32 

Weather Conditions.33 

Wind and Waves.33 

Tides and Currents.33 


On Foot.34 

With Sail or Paddle.35 

With Power.35 

Fish Handling.36 


Dispatch and Bleeding.36 



Line Maintenance.37 


Checking for Abrasions.38 



Essential Knots.39 


Slip Knot.39 

Double Slip Knot (Longliner's Knot).40 


Fisherman's Knot.43 


Anchor Bend.44 

Sheet Bend.44 

Overhand Loop.45 


Cleat Hitch.46 

Legal Considerations.47 

Licenses and Permits.47 


Bag Limits / Quotas.48 


Endangered / Protected Species.48 

Theft and Harassment 




Always check local fish and wildlife 
regulations prior to investing in gear or 
using the techniques described. 


Trotline Parts and Materials 


Anchors can be used to secure the ends of the mainline in deep water. A 
marker buoy must be attached to the anchor so that the anchor can be 
found, picked up and the line retrieved. To prevent abrasion and parting 
of the mainline, a length of chain or heavier rope should be used to 
connect the anchor to the mainline -- the anchor should never be directly 
connected to the mainline. A length of stronger rope longer than the 
depth of the water should always be used to give the anchor time to sink, 
feed out some scope and set before hooks are deployed. 



Sturdy wooden stakes can be used to secure trotlines in shallow water 
with sandy or muddy bottoms. The stake should be long enough to 
penetrate several feet into the ground and still have at least a foot above 
the water at high tide. Attach brightly colored flagging and/or reflective 
tape. The mainline is secured to the stake with a simple slip knot. In many 
jurisdictions, the mainline must be below water at all times. 

PVC or metal stakes should not be used, as these will pose a danger to 
boats if they cannot be removed for some reason, whereas wood will 
eventually decompose. 

Left: A retail "diver-down" style 
marker with modified flag. 

Right: A high-flyer made by the 
author with PVC pipe, a bullet float 
and small exercise weight. This 
style of float marks the end of a 
drifting pelagic long line, which is 
connected to the middle of the 
diagonal line attached below the 
flag. A small hole secures the line 
in place, and the mainline is 
connected to a loop in it (not 
visible) via a snap. The flag is a 
flexible plastic kitchen cutting 

Marker Buoys 

Marker buoys can be simple large brightly colored floats attached to the 
anchors or near the ends of the mainline, but "high-flyers" are often 
preferred in open water, high seas and poor visibility. A high-flyer is 
simply a long lightweight but sturdy pole, weighted on one end with lead 


or metal pipe, with an attached float about 1/3 of the way up, and a 
bright flag or radar reflector at the top. High-flyer's often have an 
additional small float attached to horizontal line of some feet that can be 
easily picked up with a pole gaff or thrown grapple. 

The line running from the marker buoy to the anchor must be longer than 
the water depth at high tide so that the anchor cannot be lifted by tidal 
and wave action. 


The mainline is the single most expensive and important part of the 
trotline and is often made of durable 
tarred braided nylon line of 350 to 
1000 lb test (Catahoula seine twine 
#30 to #120). Mono line of 200 lbs or 
more is often used for snap-staged 
lines. If twisted line is used, tarring is 
essential to form stronger knots, 
provide a better grip and protect the 
line from abrasion and marine growth. 

Leaded and floating mainline materials 
are also sometimes used. The 
minimum mainline length required 
can be determined by multiplying the 
drop length by 3 times the number of 
hooks being used. 


A staging is either a swivel or snap that connects the droplines and hooks 
to the mainline. The staging separation should be more than double the 
length of the droplines so that fish are less likely to become entangled. 
The staging positions are usually secured by knots on either side or plastic 
stops permanently melted onto the line. 

<os.| • size 36 • 1/4 - 



The swivel diameter should be just slightly larger than the mainline 
diameter so that a pair of simple overhand stopper knots can secure it in 
place. The swivels are usually either bronze or stainless steel. The swivel 
should not have any sharp edges that can abrade the line. 


There are 3 main kinds of snaps/clips - Japanese with a "u" notch that can 
slide on the mainline, American with a "v" notch that grips the line firmly 
for a particular line diameter, and the catfish trotline clips available in 
sporting goods stores, which tend to slip but are much cheaper than the 
alternatives. Snaps are useful because they allow floats and droplines to 
be quickly attached and removed, which is important when catching large 
or dangerous fish like sharks or when using bandit reels to haul gear. A 
swivel should always be used in conjunction with a snap and both the 
snap and swivel should be stainless steel to prevent corrosion. Sliding 
snaps and stop-less mono mainlines are often used with mechanized 
haulers so that the machinery does not need to be stopped every time a 
snap is to be removed. 



These are also referred to as branchlines, trots, leaders, gangions or 
snoods depending on region. Monofilament drops are recommended. For 
non-toothy fish and for drops of 2 feet or less, cheap 50 to 100 lb clear 
mono can be used. For longer drops and toothy fish, 200 to 600 lb mono 
is best. Weed-eater line is a good cheap alternative. Drops can be secured 
to hooks and swivels with slip knots or crimps, but knots are often 
preferred by the artisanal longliner as crimps can weaken the line and are 
more expensive. 

While some hook loss is inevitable when fishing for sharks with mono 
drops, the use of circle hooks and mono will result in higher catch rate as 
mono does not produce the electric/magnetic signature of steel drops 
which can be detected by wary sharks. 


Circle hooks are recommended (and often the only legal hooks) due to 
their self-setting properties, to avoid gut-hooking, and simply as a matter 
of personal safety. Gut hooking a fish not only often results in the death 


of bycatch, but also significantly slows down the hauling process unless 
the drop is cut away. 

Stainless steel hooks will be a good investment if they can be afforded, as 
they will last for many years and need only infrequent sharpening. Plated 
hooks are much cheaper than stainless hooks, but will last only from a few 
days to weeks before they must be replaced due to corrosion and 

Offset circle hooks will result in a higher hook-up rate, but are illegal in 
some jurisdictions due to higher rate of injury of bycatch. 

For a circle hook to work effectively the gap must be wider than the fishes 
jaw and the point must not be blocked by the bait. 

Left to right: Eagle Claw (plated), Mustad (plated), Luengo (stainless 



Floats are sometimes used to keep the bait off the bottom, use wave- 
action to jerk the bait or lures, and are used to pick up the mainline and 
anchors. Floats also fight the fish and may enable the gear to be 
recovered in the event that the mainline parts. Many jurisdictions prohibit 
the use of plastic bottles / containers as floats. Floats can be made from 
Styrofoam, foam pool noodles or found in quantity on the beach after 

Soft foam floats can be slit with a spiral or 
zig zag cut, attached directly to the 
mainline and secured in place with a loop 
of line or caution tape. They can also be 
zip-tied to a loop of line attached to a 
snap and swivel. The loop knot allows the 
floatline to be rapidly changed out for 
one of a different length, although some 
trotliners use one length float line and 
knot it to adjust for various depths. Other 
floats can be attached with snaps and 
swivels or tied to swivels on the mainline. 



Lead weights of 6 ounces to several pounds are sometimes used to keep 
the line close to the bottom on uneven ground, to discourage fish from 
swimming upwards and to remove slack from the mainline. They can be 
permanently attached to swivels on the mainline or secured with snaps. 



If the droplines will be directly connected to the mainline with swivels, 
thread all of the swivels onto the mainline and hold them against the 
spool. Attach the free end of the mainline to a large shuttle. Use the 
shuttle to tie a knot in the mainline. Slide a swivel against the knot. Set 
down the shuttle. Holding the spool and remaining swivels, tie a knot on 
the other side. Measure out the desired staging interval and repeat. 


If the drop lines will be connected with snaps and stopper knots are 
desired, the spool alone can be used to tie the pairs of knots at the 
staging intervals as the mainline is coiled in a bucket or wound onto a 
bandit reel. 

Drop Lines 

If the drop lines are connected to snaps, the assembly consists solely of 
tying or crimping the hooks to the swivels on the snaps. If the drops are 
connected to the mainline, as each drop is connected the trotline must be 
carefully coiled and stored using the storage method that will be used in 



Baskets or large round tubs can be used to store trotlines with swivel 
stagings and hooks attached or droplines with snap stagings. For swivel 
staged mainlines, the mainline and droplines are simply coiled 
successively on top of each other. This works best with heavy tarred 
mainline and droplines - the "tails" or crimps on mono droplines tend to 
cause entanglements with this storage method. 


For storing snap-staged droplines, a ring of line is hung on the inside rim 
of the container. After being disconnected from the mainline (which is 
coiled in its own basket or on a bandit reel), the snaps are snapped onto 
the rope and the hooks are hung on the swivels or snaps. 


The hooks of swivel-staged trotlines are hung on the rim of a bucket, with 
the mainline coiled inside of the bucket. Ideally, the droplines should be 
shorter than the length of the bucket so that the weight of the swivel and 
mainline holds the hook in place. Bucketed trotlines can be stacked on top 
of each other, locking the hooks in place so that they can be stored in any 
orientation. To facilitate easy rinsing and drying, holes are often drilled at 
the lowest points of the buckets. 



Magazines consist of racks or slotted pipes that hooks can easily slide 
onto and off of, which enables very rapid setting of lines. 

Left to right: double-rod magazine, slit pipe magazine, slit beam 
magazine, double rod magazine viewed from the side - mainline hangs 
in loops below. 


Tools & Gear 

This simple tool is slid over the hook, and with a quick flick of the wrist the 
fish is flipped off. This is particularly advantageous with high numbers of 
bycatch fish that are slimy or equipped with toxic spines. 


A long rod or short-handled tool with a crook on the business end that is 
slipped over the hook and used to pull it out. 


Used to compress ferrules on mono or steel drop lines. 


Wire/bolt Cutters 

Used to cut steel leaders and hooks. Important safety tool and also often 
legally required if sea turtles, marine mammals or birds may be caught as 


A number of gaffs can be used for different situations. The pole gaff is a 
simple pole and hook that is usually unbarbed. The flying gaff has a 
detachable hook on a pole (usually barbed) and is attached to a rope 
coiled in a bucket to land large lively fish. A fish pick is a short version of a 
pole gaff. A drag hook is a very short gaff held in the hand. 



Similar to a gaff but with multiple prongs that are dull and unbarbed. 
Attached to a coil rope and thrown to pick up buoys and floats. 

Fish Baskets 

These sturdy plastic baskets are designed for commercial fisherman and 
shrimpers and are used to move and weigh fish and store gear. The many 
openings allow water to drain quickly and also allow water to enter if 
used to hold live fish in conjunction with foam flotation attached to the 

Landing Net 

Good to have on hand to prevent small weakly hooked fish from being 
lost and for landing small bycatch that cannot be gaffed. 

Ice Chests / Boxes 

Make sure to bring enough to hold the catch and also ensure that all large 
chests are equipped with drain holes. Large ice boxes can be made from a 
sandwich of plywood and foam insulation sheathed in fiberglass. 


A trotliner should have an assortment of fixed-blade stainless steel knives 
- a serrated bait knife, fillet knife, cleaver, stiff short knife for dispatch 
and saw for removing heads and tails. A knife close at hand is also critical 
in the event that someone is hooked. 


Line Haulers 

Motorized or manually cranked winches are recommended when 
targeting large fish and/or when using large boats. 

Pot Puller 

A pot puller is designed for pulling 
heavy crab pots off the sea floor, 
but most can also be used to haul 
any kind of trotline. The puller is 
simply a drum, stiff arm with pulley 
and tensioning roller. It is often 
used with basket gear, as the 
basket can simply be placed under 
the puller to collect the trotline. 

Bandit Reel 

A Bandit reel is a fairly simple device that consists of a reel and attached 
short rod (usually flat thick fiberglass) with a pulley on the end. This 
device can only be used with snap-staged trotlines as the mainline is 
wound and stored on the reel. If only small fish (under 3.5 feet or so) are 
targeted, these can be cheaply made from electric fence reels (common in 
New Zealand). The one pictured to the right holds about 3,000 ft. of 200 
lb mono. 



Catching Bait 


Simple traps are useful for catching crabs, crayfish, perch and minnows. 
Traps with multiple funnel entrances and a central bait cage are 
preferred. There are many varieties available for sale, and they can also 
be cheaply made with galvanized or plastic mesh and zip ties. 

A crab trap made by the author with two funnels at the ends and a large 
central bait cage. The white ring is a legally required "escape ring" to 
allow undersize crabs and fish to escape. 

Cast Net 

Large cast nets can be used to quickly catch large amounts of mullet, 
shrimp and other schooling bait fish. When choosing a cast net, make sure 
that the weights are lead, that the leadline is secured to the net with good 
knots, and that the mesh size is smaller than the target species so that fish 
are not caught by their gills. 


The author casting a 14 foot diameter net into a deep channel for large 

Dip Net 

Dip nets can be used to catch crabs at night in large quantities with a 
headlamp or underwater light and are also good for scooping up bait from 
live wells. 

For aeration and water circulation, 12 volt floating air pumps can be used, 
bilge pumps with venturi jets, or a combination of bilge pump, oxygen 
tanks and air stones. The pump outputs should be oriented to circulate 
the water and air bubbles. Circular tanks are preferred for schooling fish 
like mullet, which may try jumping out of the water if they encounter 
sharp corners. 


Large ice chests or nested trash bins with a layer of insulation help keep 
water cool, which in turn holds more oxygen and allows the fish to live 


Crabs can be caught with traps or "pots" in deep water and in shallow 
water at night with a dip net, fish basket and LED underwater or 
headlamp. Cut mullet and catfish can be used as crab bait, but oily shad is 
the best bait. 

Small crabs can be used whole, but a single large crab can be cut into 
many small pieces and used to bait dozens of hooks. 



Shrimp can be used whole or peeled, cut into small pieces and salted or 
dried. Shrimp can sometimes be caught with castnet or small trawling 
nets in deeper water with muddy bottoms or near bridges or lights. Sand 
fleas or mole crabs can be dug or raked from the shore and used whole. 


Mullet are one of the most common coastal bait fish and range in size 
from a few inches to several feet. They are best caught with a cast net as 
they often form large schools near the surface. Large "horse" mullet, 
squid and shad can sometimes be caught in quantity by "blind-casting" 
into deeper water or channels and allowing the net to sink to the bottom. 
Small mullet can be used live or dead whole. Large mullet can be cut into 
many chunks and the heads can be used as well (hook through the mouth 
and through the top of the head). Mullet are excellent bait for some 
drums, flounder and sharks. 


Menhaden and other oily shad are favorites of many fish, but are also 
quite soft. Shad are commonly caught with purse seines or cast nets. Use 
them whole hooked through the top of the head or near the tougher tail 
section, or cut large menhaden in half. 



Small clams and oysters can be scooped up by hand or with small dredges. 
A hole can be drilled and they can be hooked shell and all, or shucked. If 
shucked, they will be quickly consumed by perch and catfish, so their use 
is fairly rare. 


Perch and other small fish are best caught in traps baited with shrimp, 
crab, cut mullet or bread in a mesh bag. Piggy perch are best caught with 
crushed blue crab. They require aeration and are best as live bait, though 
larger dead perch can be cut and are good fresh bait. 


Squid is excellent bait, live or dead, cut or whole, fresh, frozen or brined. 
It is tougher than shrimp so will stay on the hook much longer, but is also 
a favorite of catfish. 

Mud Minnows 

Mud minnows are one of the best live baits, particularly for flounder. 
They can survive weeks in just inches of muddy water and do not require 
aeration. They are best caught with traps set in shallow water with the 
top of the trap above water and baited with any kind of cut fish, although 
they will also go for shrimp or even hot dogs or chips! 


A minnow trap made by the author from 4 pieces of galvanized mesh - 
the top and bottom squares, bait cage and a long piece bent into a 4- 
leafed clover shape with slot entrances cut on all 4 sides. 

Wooden Dowels 

After some departments banned the use of artificial bait and lures on 
trotlines, some innovative fisherman began experimenting with leaves, 
carrots, corks and wooden buttons as bait! In doing so, they invented a 
remarkably effective, cheap and efficient fishing technique. Round 
branches or wooden dowel rods are cut into slices and a hole is drilled 
near the edge that is slightly larger diameter than the hook wire size. The 
disc is rotated/rocked onto the hook and the barb holds it in place. 

There are number of theories as to why wooden discs catch fish - all of 
which probably are true to some extent. These theories include: 

• The disc mimics the motion of a small crustacean as it is jerked in 
the water by wave action on the floats. 


• The disc provides a platform that small crustaceans can deposit 
eggs or hide on 

• The disc provides structure for barnacles and algae to grow on 

• The disc feels like a small clam in the mud 

Whichever theory is true, the wooden dowel catches drum, catfish and 
stingray in huge quantities - sometimes a fish on every hook! 

While illegal in some areas, a few fisherman also soak or boil their dry 
wood pieces in fish oil or shrimp juice to make them even more enticing. 

Target Species 
Croakers and Snappers 

These fishes tend to feed on or near the bottom and include red and black 
drum, spot, whiting and many species of snapper. To target these species, 
try keeping the hooks a few inches off the bottom by using stakes, 
mainline floats, dropline bead floats or a buoyant mainline in conjunction 
with weights. While these fish take baits directly on the bottom, so does 
everything else - crabs and mollusks often rapidly devour anything sitting 
on the bottom. 


Freshwater catfish are often the primary quarry of "recreational" 
trotliners, but many saltwater species such as the gafftop are good table 


fare too. Even the despised hardhead has some value as crab bait and 
although has little meat, is good to eat. Catfish will eat anything - when 
the population is dense, there is often a catfish on every hook when 
baited with wood dowels only. To target monster cats however, live bait 
such as perch is preferred. 


Coastal sharks that can be easily targeted by trotline include small 
blacktips, bonnetheads, finetooths, sharpnose, bulls, spinners and of 
course the dogfish or smoothound. Sharks should be bled immediately 
and gutted as soon as possible after landing. To target sharks, use large 
sturdy hooks and fresh baits that are tough and large enough to withstand 
smaller baitstealers. Good baits include jack crevalle, horse mullet and 
blue runner. Ladyfish or skipjack is excellent blacktip bait, but is soft and 
readily consumed if many baitstealers are present. 


Stingrays are commonly caught when the mainline is directly on the 
bottom. Often times they are simply investigating the bait and will be 
snagged in the wings near the mouth. The wings are delicious and some 
rays such as the cownose and eagle are particularly sought after by 
recreational shark fisherman and will sometimes fetch a decent price at 
local bait stands. Good baits include shrimp, cut squid and wood dowels. 


These and other flat fish can be targeted by lures, occasionally dead 
whole baits and live baits such as finger mullet, small perch and mud 




Bottom Type 

Many fish prefer particular bottom types - rocky, sandy, muddy, shell, 
oyster reef, coral reef, wreck reef, etc. When setting on rough bottom or 
near wrecks or reefs, care must be taken to keep the mainline from 
abrading by using anchor chains, keeping the mainline a few feet off the 
bottom and/or using weaker drop lines or hooks that will break if caught 
on obstructions. 

Depth and Water Temperature 

Many fish species prefer particular depths of water, but may change their 
preferred depths as the seasons progress. Shallow water can quickly cool 
off or heat up, whereas deeper water maintains a steadier temperature - 
if the air temperature is unusually hot or cold, fish will often take refuge in 
deeper water. Depth can be ascertained with long poles, sounding lead 
line, or electronic sonar and fish finders. Temperature data can be 
obtained from online weather buoys or electronic probes. 


The angle that the line is set relative to the land often plays a role in the 
catch. Many species will congregate at similar depths and setting a line 
parallel to shore capitalizes on this. If one is unsure of the preferred 
depth, a line can be test set by running it perpendicular to shore. 

Land Features 

Many species offish can be found in estuaries, back bays, river deltas and 
any other brackish areas where fresh and saltwater meet. Mangroves and 
grass provide cover for fish, as do man-made features like old roads, 
bridges or other works that have begun to decay and become submerged. 
Electric plants and other industrial facilities that use water cooling return 
the heated water - fish seek out this warm water during times of cold. 


Weather Conditions 

Carefully monitoring current weather reports and forecasts is vital both 
before and after trotlines are set. Stormy conditions and fronts can 
sometimes result in better fishing, but heavy weather can also strain the 
gear and vessel, sometimes resulting in its damage or total loss. Trotlines 
that have both mainline floats and end fixtures are particularly vulnerable 
to damage from large waves, high winds, extreme tidal changes and 
floating debris. 

Wind and Waves 

Knowing the direction of the wind and waves is vital at all times when 
running lines. The forecast wind and wave strength and direction should 
always be closely monitored before heading out. When in a small vessel, 
extreme caution should be observed whenever seas are covered in 
frequent white caps and waves begin to break. 

Tides and Currents 

Many fish ride the tides - coming inshore when the tide is high and 
heading to deeper water when the tide drops. Fishing is often best an 
hour before and after a tidal switch. During slack tide when the water is 
not moving, many fish will not move much either and the bite tends to 
slow down. Low tides often concentrate bait fish. Tides and currents will 
also affect water clarity - visual predators need clear water to hunt. 

Care must also be taken to make sure that the anchors are of the 
appropriate type for the strongest currents possible and that float-lines 
are longer that the depth of water at the highest possible tide. 



On Foot 

When the water is waist-deep or less at high tide, lines can be waded out 
-transported by backpack or raft and secured with wooden stakes. If 
detachable floats are used, they can be attached to a rope and floated 

Setting on foot allows one access to water too shallow for many boats - 
many species congregate en masse in shallow back bays and lagoons to 
spawn. Setting on foot also permits the line to be set at any angle relative 
to wind and waves. 

Lines should not be waded in deep water or water frequented by sharks. 
A slow shuffling walk should be used to avoid stepping on stingrays. 


With Sail or Paddle 

To set by kayak, dinghy or rowboat, attach the mainline to the stake or 
anchor. Drop the anchor or press the stake into the bottom on the 
upwind side of the boat. As the boat drifts back in the wind or current, 
deploy the mainline with at least one mainline float attached. If snap- 
staged drops are used, they should either be attached to the mainline 
before setting or after both end fixtures are in place. Clipping on drops to 
mainline while in a drifting boat with no power is not recommended. 

To check the line, pick up the most windward mainline float (NOT the 
anchor buoy). If a kayak or small rowboat is used, the mainline can be 
pulled across the boat, alongside by hand or fed through a u-shaped 
fairlead on a small outrigger. When a small sailboat is used, it is 
recommended to pick up the entire line beginning at the downwind 
anchor buoy. 

To haul the gear, pick up the downwind anchor buoy. Detach the anchor 
and haul the line in hand over hand or with a line hauler. Remove and 
store floats, weights (and drop lines if snap stagings are used). Coil the 
mainline in a basket or bucket. 

With Power 

Heavy power boats are not recommended for setting lines that require 
floats and droplines to be clipped on unless the mainline has no stops, the 
clips are of the sliding variety and a pulley is used to guide and support 
the mainline. 

To set a trotline with swivel-staged floats and droplines with a power 
boat, drop the anchor and buoy off the stern with the baited mainline 
attached. Slowly motor downwind from the anchor. The line must be 
deployed faster than the boat is moving. If a magazine is used in 
conjunction with a feed ramp over the stern rail, no further action will be 
needed until dropping the final anchor. If bucket or basket gear is used, 
the line must be flicked from the container over the rail with a stick or 
thrown over in coils if baiting is done at the same time as deploying. 


To check the line with a heavy boat, the gear must be picked up with the 
aid of the motor and the use of a line-hauler is recommended. Pick up the 
downwind anchor buoy and anchor. Detach the anchor and run the line 
through a fairlead or pulley on the upwind bow quarter. Slowly motor a 
few degrees off towards the upwind anchor, coiling and stowing the line 
and removing the fish. 

Fish Handling 

Small fish can be "flipped" or shaken off with a "flipper" or fish pike. 
However, take as much care as possible when landing any fish not to 
allow it to bang around and become bruised and scaled. 

When swivel stagings and mechanical line haulers are used, the mainline 
can be fed between two closely spaced pipes or rollers - the hooks will be 
pulled out and the fish will drop into the hold or cooler. 

Use a landing net only on small and medium size fish if the hook appears 
to be weakly embedded. 

Large or dangerous fish should be pulled on board with the dropline 
and/or by gaffing in the head area. Whenever hauling in a fish by hand, 
the dropline should never be wrapped around the hand and the use of 
sturdy gloves is recommended. Particularly large and lively fish may need 
to be "played" by detaching the dropline, connecting it to a rope coiled in 
a bucket and allowing the fish to run and wear itself out. 

Dispatch and Bleeding 

Most small and medium fish can simply be placed immediately into the 
ice chest and cleaned at home or sold whole and ungutted. Large or 
dangerous fish may need be stunned with a small club or bat and spiked 
in the brain in the soft spot on top of the head between the eyes. Many 
larger fishes, particularly predatory fish like sharks, tuna and mackerel are 
recommended to be bled by cutting a primary blood vessel while the 


heart is still beating - typically either: the sides of the tail, sides just 
behind the pectoral fins, or throat behind the heart. If possible, run water 
over the fish while bleeding it. 


All fish should be rinsed with clean fresh or salt water prior to icing. If fish 
are to be gutted, gut them immediately once all movement has stopped. 
Use a sharp knit to cut open the belly from the anus to the mouth. Lift out 
the guts and cut the lower intestine and gills away from the body if 
necessary. Many fish have a "bloodline" in the body cavity just under the 
spine which should be scraped out. Save roe and livers if desired. 


To maintain a fresh and bright appearance, fish should not be placed with 
their bodies directly touching, which can cause friction, scales to rub off 
and cooling to be delayed. A layer of ice a few inches thick is spread in the 
empty ice chest, then fish are neatly arranged so they touch and overlap 
as little as possible. Another layer of ice a few inches thick is spread over 
the fish - repeat the process of staggering fish and ice. Make sure to keep 
the drain hole open at all times - fish blood and offal pooling in water will 
not only make them look bad, but may also may accelerate 

All large fish should be at least gutted (perhaps headed and tailed as well 
if desired to conserve ice and space). Body cavities should be stuffed with 
ice, and particularly valuable fish can be placed in a soft muslin bag. 
Delicate fish like flounder are sometimes placed in a slurry of saltwater 
and ice rather than iced in the typical fashion. 

Line Maintenance 

One of the most important aspects of line maintenance is to never leave it 
in the water for more than a week. Hauling the gear out of the water, 


rinsing it, and allowing it to thoroughly dry will remove corrosive salt and 
kill the slime and marine organisms that begin to grow on it, which may 
then need to be scraped off by hand. Rinsing with fresh water is especially 
important when using bronze swivels and non-stainless hooks. 

Checking for Abrasions 

Every few weeks the entire mainline should be examined by coiling it into 
another basket or bucket. If there are any severe abrasions, the line 
should be cut and re-joined with a fisherman's knot. 


Non-stainless hooks should be checked for sharpness, rust and bending on 
a daily basis if possible and replaced if needed. Stainless hooks should last 
for many years, but should be checked every few weeks and sharpened 
with files or grinding wheels if needed. 


Sooner or later a fisherman is likely to have the mainline part or a basket 
drop. While very frustrating, one must remain cool and patient to salvage 
hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of gear and not make a tangle 
worse. Often, merely cutting away a few hooks or removing a few drop 
lines will solve the problem, but if the tangle involves hundreds of feet of 
mainline or an entire basket, one must often cut the mainline, rejoin the 
ends with the fisherman's knot and save the tangle to work on at home. 
Try not to move the tangle - once all the droplines are removed, it is 
often surprisingly simple to tease the mainline apart. Never leave behind 
a tangled mainline in the water regardless of the level of frustration- not 
only will it endanger yourself, others and fish in the future, but you will 
lose all the valuable hooks and swivels that could be saved simply by 
hauling the tangle aboard, stowing it in a basket and cutting them away 
back at the dock. 


Essential Knots 

Slip Knot 

A basic knot that forms the basis for the fisherman's knot, Snell knot and 
double slip knot. 


Double Slip Knot (Longliner's Knot) 

This is the most important trotlining knot and is used to tie droplines to 
hooks and swivels. The knot is basically a slip knot with an extra wrap, 
with the first wrap pushed up and over the second to form a figure 8 that 
is cinched down onto the hook/swivel. This knot can be used with mono 
of up to several hundred pound test and is extremely strong - the mono 
line will break before this knot will come undone. 




Sometimes used to tie hooks to droplines. 


Fisherman's Knot 

Used to permanently join two lines. 



Overhand Loop 

Used to create a strong non-slipping loop for attaching hooks, drops, 

floats or shackles. 


Cleat Hitch 


Legal Considerations 
Licenses and Permits 

Many areas do not allow the use of trotlines at all. Some allow them only 
for "recreational" purposes along with strict limits on line length, hook 
number, type and setting times. Tags with name, address and sometimes 
date of deployment are usually required. Some jurisdictions require a gear 
license in addition to a fishing license. 

Some territories will allow any resident to get a commercial fishing license 
in minutes for a small fee, whereas others require time-consuming 
application processes or have enacted "moratoriums" on the issue of new 
commercial license altogether- requiring any would-be commercial 
fisherman to purchase or lease a license from someone who already has 
one and can charge whatever he wants. 

An excellent example of this is the issue of commercial shark fishing by 
bottom longline (trotline) on the US Gulf Coast: 

• Texas allows trotlines only in bays and no sharks may be kept if 
caught on trotlines. In addition, even with a commercial license 
(which currently costs about $30,000 due to moratorium) only 1 
shark may be kept per day when caught on rod and reel 
regardless of species. 

• Louisiana allows trotlines for sharks and 45 may be kept per day 
when the season is open, with a commercial license that costs 
only $55 and a "set line" license of $25. 

• The Federal government allows trotlines for smoothhound sharks 
when the season is open with no daily limit and a commercial 
smoothhound vessel permit that costs only $25 


Many areas have seasons for particular species of fish or trotlining in 
general, and some governments may change the season start and end 
times at different months each year depending on the reports of the 


previous year's catch and current fishing levels. Always check with both 
local and national regulations on seasons when fishing in regional or 
national waters (sometimes called Territorial Waters or Exclusive 
Economic Zones). 

Bag Limits / Quotas 

Oftentimes, there are different "bag limits" or number of fish that can be 
retained in one day depending on whether one has a commercial, 
recreational or subsistence permit. 

Some fisheries do not have bag limits but simply close down the fishing 
for a particular species altogether when a certain total number of fish 
from all fisherman combined has been landed. 


Most commercial fisherman are required to report their landings, gear 
and trip details only when they sell the fish directly to consumers . If the 
fish are sold to another licensed dealer, this is usually not required, as it is 
the dealer's responsibility to report the landings. 

Typically, the reports are submitted by mail, online or via electronic 
equipment required to be installed on the boat (which also tracks the 
boats movements via GPS). Artisanal fisherman are advised to avoid 
entering any fishery that requires governmental electronic monitoring, as 
even though reimbursements can sometimes be granted, the upfront cost 
of the reporting and monitoring equipment is staggering and must be paid 
for by the fisherman. 

Endangered / Protected Species 

When using trotlines (which may be classified as bottom or pelagic 
longlines depending on species targeted) some governments may require 
that certain release tools and placards be present on the boat, and often a 
certificate verifying that at least one person aboard the boat has attended 
a class on handling and releasing protected species that may be accidently 
caught on the line. 


Theft and Harassment 

To avoid sabotage and theft of gear and fish, lines should be checked 
frequently and set far from shore and away from areas popular with 
recreational boaters and fisherman. If theft is a serious concern, the 
smallest possible buoys should be used in conjunction with meticulous 
notation of landmarks or use of GPS to locate the gear. 

However, the rights and gear of fisherman are protected by law in many 
areas. Notices can be posted on buoys or stakes containing warnings that 
inform the public of local laws regarding commercial fishing gear. Small 
cameras can also be mounted on buoys and boats to document any theft 
or harassment.